Breathing Easy: Grape extract quells inflammation in lung disease

A component of red wine, resveratrol, seems to damp down the inflammatory process in the progressive lung disease COPD, finds a small study. So effective was resveratrol in laboratory tests that the authors suggest that the compound could be developed to treat the disease. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is irreversible and progressive. The lungs deteriorate, making it difficult, and eventually impossible, to breathe. Smoking is the chief culprit.

The cells involved in the inflammatory process in COPD include macrophages. The researchers isolated macrophages from the lung fluid samples of 15 smokers and 15 patients with COPD, and ran two experiments. In one, the macrophages were artificially spurred into action; resveratrol was then added to the mix. In the other, resveratrol was added in the absence of artificial stimulation.

In the unstimulated samples, resveratrol almost completely eliminated the production of interleukin 8 – a chemical that promotes inflammation – by 94% in smokers’ macrophages and by 88% in COPD macrophages. The production of interleukin 8 was around five times as great in patients with COPD as it was in smokers. In the stimulated samples, the compound more than halved the amount of interleukin produced.

Resveratrol is a polyphenol antioxidant found in the skins of red fruits, such as grapes, and has been credited with the much-touted beneficial effects of red wine. It also has limited availability as a dietary supplement, often as a component of an antioxidant supplement.

The authors conclude that resveratrol or related compounds may be more effective than corticosteroids for treating COPD.

British Medical Journal, Oct 24, 2003